Total Immersion: How I Learned to Swim Effortlessly in 10 Days and You Can Too

Is it possible to get good at swimming late in life? Yes. (Photo: Shutterhack)

Swimming has always scared the hell out of me.

Despite national titles in other sports, I’ve always fought to keep afloat. This inability to swim well has always been one of my greatest insecurities and embarrassments.

I’ve tried to learn to swim almost a dozen times, and each time, my heart jumps to 180+ beats-per-minute after one or two pool lengths. It’s indescribably exhausting and unpleasant.

No more.

In the span of less than 10 days, I’ve gone from a 2-length (2 x 20 yards/18.39 meters) maximum to swimming more than 40 lengths per workout in sets of 2 and 4. Here’s how I did it after everything else failed, and how you can do the same…

At the end of January, a kiwi friend issued a New Year’s resolution challenge: he would go all of 2008 without coffee or stimulants if I trained and finished an open-water 1-kilometer race in 2008. I agreed.

He had grown up a competitive swimmer and convinced me that — unlike my other self-destructive habits masquerading as exercise (no-gi BJJ, etc.) — it was a life skill and a pleasure I needed to share with my future children. In other words: of all the potential skills you could learn, swimming was one of the most fundamental.

So why is this post only coming out now, eight months later? Because I tried everything, read the “best” books, and still failed.

Kick boards? Tried them. I barely moved at all and — as someone who is usually good at most sports — felt humiliated and left.

Hand paddles? Tried them. My shoulders will never forgive me. Isn’t swimming supposed to be low-impact? Strike two.

It continued for months until I was prepared to concede defeat. Then I met Chris Sacca, formerly of Google fame and now an investor and triathlete in training, at a BBQ and told him of my plight. Before I had a chance to finish, he cut me off:

“I have the answer to your prayers. It revolutionized how I swim.”

That got my attention.

The Method

He introduced me to Total Immersion (TI), a method usually associated with coach Terry Laughlin, and I immediately ordered the book and freestyle DVD.

In the first workout — I’ve never had a coach or supervision — I cut my drag and water resistance at least 50%, swimming more laps than ever before in my life. By the fourth workout, I had gone from 25+ strokes per 20-yard length to an average of 11 strokes per 20-yard length. Unbelievable.

In other words, I was covering more than twice the distance with the same number of strokes, with less than 1/2 the effort, and with no panic or stress. In fact, I felt better after leaving the pool than before getting in. I couldn’t — and still can’t — believe it.

Here are my notes from the Total Immersion book, which I would recommend reading after watching the Freestyle Made Easy DVD, as the drills are near-impossible to understand otherwise. I was actually unable to do the exercises from pages 110 – 150 (I cannot float horizontally and have a weak kick) and became frustrated until the DVD enabled me to attempt technique with propulsion. The theories and explanation after the DVD, however, will change how you view all of it:

Total Immersion Freestyle notes
Total Immersion freestyle notes (click to enlarge)

My Top 8 Tips for Novices

Here are the principles that made the biggest difference for me:

1) To propel yourself forward with the least effort, focus on shoulder roll and keeping your body horizontal (least resistance), not pulling with your arms or kicking with your legs. This is counter-intuitive but important, as kicking harder is the most universal suggestion for fixing swimming issues.

2) Keep yourself horizontal by keeping your head in line with your spine — you should be looking straight down. Use the same head position as while walking and drive your arm underwater vs. swimming on the surface. See Shinji Takeuchi’s underwater shots at :49 seconds at and Natalie Coughlin’s explanation at :26 seconds. Notice how little Shinji uses his legs; the small flick serves only to help him turn his hips and drive his next arm forward. This is the technique that allows me to conserve so much energy.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJpFVvho0o4&hl=en&fs=1]

A good demonstration of a TI crawl.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkt31KITQro&hl=en&fs=1]

3. In line with the above video of Shinji, think of swimming freestyle as swimming on alternating sides, not on your stomach. From the TI Wikipedia page:

“Actively streamline” the body throughout the stroke cycle through a focus on rhythmically alternating “streamlined right side” and “streamlined left side” positions and consciously keeping the bodyline longer and sleeker than is typical for human swimmers.

For those who have rock climbed or done bouldering, it’s just like moving your hip closer to a wall to get more extension. To test this: stand chest to a wall and reach as high as you can with your right arm. Then turn your right hip so it’s touching the wall and reach again with your right arm: you’ll gain 3-6″. Lengthen your vessel and you travel further on each stroke. It adds up fast.

4. Penetrate the water with your fingers angled down and fully extend your arm well beneath your head. Extend it lower and further than you think you should. This downward water pressure on the arms will bring your legs up and decrease drag. It will almost feel like you’re swimming downhill. I highly recommend watching the “Hand Position and Your Balance” video at the top of this page here.

5. Focus on increasing stroke length (SL) instead of stroke rate (SR). Attempt to glide further on each downstroke and decrease the number of strokes per lap.

6. Forget about workouts and focus on “practice.” You are training your nervous system to perform counter-intuitive movements well, not training your aerobic system. If you feel strained, you’re not using the proper technique. Stop and review rather than persist through the pain and develop bad habits.

7. Stretch your extended arm and turn your body (not just head) to breathe. Some triathletes will even turn almost to their backs and face skyward to avoid short gasps and oxygen debt (tip from Dave Scott, 6-time Ironman world champion).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LqqNO3WYZ0&hl=en&fs=1]

8. Experiment with hand swapping as a drill:

It’s difficult to remember all of the mechanical details while swimming. I short-circuited trying to follow half a dozen rules at once. The single drill that forced me to do most other things correctly is described on pg. 91-92 of the TI book: hand swapping. Coach Laughlin’s observations of the Russian Olympic team practice were a revelation to me.

This is the visualization I found most useful: focus on keeping your lead arm fully extended until your other arm comes over and penetrates the water around the extended arm’s forearm. This encourages you to swim on your sides, extends your stroke length, and forces you to engage in what is referred to as “front quadrant” swimming. All good things. This one exercise cut an additional 3-4 strokes off each lap of freestyle.

Gear and Getting Started

Ready to give it a shot? If you have a phobia of swimming or just want to feel the difference a few counter-intuitive techniques make, here are some starter tips:

1. Gents, don’t swim in board shorts. I tried this in Brazil and didn’t realize it’s like swimming with a parachute behind you. Terrible. Get some Euro-style Speedos and streamline. Be cool on the beach and opt for efficiency in the water.

2. Get good goggles. I am now using Speedo Vanquisher goggles, which I find effective if you use a latex swim cap to keep the straps in place. I need to tighten the nose bridge straps every 100-125 meters or so to prevent chlorinated water from blinding me, and leakage with all three goggles I tested seem to be due to eye pieces spread too far apart. I’ll be experimenting with the much-acclaimed Aqua Sphere Kaiman swim goggles, which are simple to adjust and tighten without removing them from your head.

3. Start practicing in a pool that is short and shallow. Use a lane in the shallow end (4 ft. or less) and opt for a pool that is no longer than 20 yards. I’ve since progressed to 25 yards but found focusing on technique easier with shorter pools. Since I’ve adapted to 25 yards, I plan to move to an Olympic-sized 50-meter pool once I can do 10 x 100 yards with 30-45 seconds of rest between sets.

To Finish Up…

I never ever thought I’d say this but: I love swimming.

This is RIDICULOUS, as I have always HATED swimming and avoided it. Now — after one book and DVD — I make time whenever possible to do laps like moving meditation.

I’ll swim for two hours and sneak out to get in an extra session a few hours later. I still can’t believe it.

I encourage all of you — whether you want to overcome your fears or win the Ironman — to give TI training a test drive. It’s the first instruction that’s made sense to me and is 100% responsible for the fastest transformative experience I’ve ever had in the world of sports. Just incredible.

Now, if I can just get from 100-yard sets to 1 kilometer 🙂

[Postscript: The creator of TI himself, Terry Laughlin, has left additional tips and observations in the comments.]

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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452 Replies to “Total Immersion: How I Learned to Swim Effortlessly in 10 Days and You Can Too”

  1. This is an awesome article! I was researching this method as something a beginner could use to teach themselves a solid freestyle technique that would be efficient enough to boost the number of lengths they can swim and their overall distance as well. This article breaks it down brilliantly. Cheers

  2. I was a breast stroker for years until my orthopedist told me it was too hard on my heavily damaged knees. So I took a class to learn crawl and love it. Both strokes give me a runner’s high and I can swim for at least an hour. And eat cheesecake and lose weight.

  3. I was thinking of writing a similar article to this one. I had just completed my level 1 TI test. I haven’t done any long distance swimming yet though I can definitely feel the difference. Less effort for longer distances. Can’t wait to start the level 2 swim.

  4. Excellent summary of the TI swimming approach. I really enjoyed reading this. I have been doing TI drills since February. Needed to: a stroke completely wrecked my technique.

    My three brothers are Ironmen Triatheletes and have been using this technique for years. Whilst I was in the stroke unit Laughlin’s book landed on the bed: read it cover to cover and then spent much of the following weeks looking at clips in Utube. As soon as I was out of the unit I was into the pool – I am now swimming better than I ever thought possible. Started with the drills and then rebuilt the swimming stroke. I went back to my masters swimming sessions last week.

  5. Your article on TI is very inspiring. I’ve heard so much about TI but never really bothered until reading your article and how it changed your perspective on swimming. I just hope that the book and DvD is available at a popular book store here in the Philippines. My 10 year old daughter whose been swimming since she was 3 recently became a varsity swimmer in her school. She had her first taste of competition (all strokes) last weekend. Unfortunately, she ended up last in all competitions but was not too far way behind. Since I took a video, I was able to count the number of strokes she did on the 25 meter length and it was an whopping 38 as against her competitors who only did an average of 28. No wonder, she could no longer catch up on the return 25 meters probably due to exhaustion. My question is : If I can get hold of the the book, will the book tell where to start with and at what pace. I plan on tutoring my daughter who is very stubborn and always tells me I know more than her coach everytime I give her a piece of advise.

    Thanks,

    Danny

  6. Hey man,

    This is sooo inspirational to read, and I really appreciate the time and honestly you have invested in producing this page. I come from a similar situation with regards to swimming and at 39 am just now really beginning to enjoy the pool for fitness and fun. I totally understand how rewarding this can be and echo just about everything you have said here.

    Thanks again,

    Dan

  7. 2 days ago I couldn’t swim 15 lengths without stopping. Today I swam 100 lengths of a 25m pool and felt fresh at the end. Thank you for this post, it was the simplest changes (like breathing every 3 strokes) that made all the difference.

  8. Hi Tim,

    I started taking swimming lessons 2 months ago, now I can swim 6*25 length in a row but I’m still looking for improvement, for maximum efficiency. So a few days ago i came across this new style from Total Immersion. Some of its elements are natural but some intrigue me:

    1. Why is the leading arm pointing somewhat downwards? Also the palm is bended with the fingers pointing even more downwards. Since the direction of movement is forward shouldn’t the whole body be like a straight line from fingers to feet? Doesn’t that arm and fingers introduce some extra counter-force from the water?

    2. What is the purpose of a low kicking beat? Just for saving energy?

    Thank you if you have time for answering and clearing these things up for me

  9. Tim,

    Thank you so much for posting this!!! I have never been a decent swimmer. I signed up for a triathlon giving myself 14 weeks to figure everything out and get in shape. I hit swimming first because it freaks me out.

    I went swimming three different days, around an hour each time, and the third time it clicked. I swam 625 yards flawlessly, at least it felt flawless compared to what I was doing.

    I have tons to improve on, but now it is realistic to get this swimming part down. Thank you so much for your help!!!

  10. I took a weekend seminar for “Total Immersion” that was actually coached by Terry. It was great, and I recommend it to anyone. Well worth the money if you want to improve your swimming in a real and meaningful way. Full disclosure, in my younger days, I was one of the first 100 USCG Aviation Rescue Swimmers, so I’ve done some time in the water.

  11. Hi Tim

    Thanks for this. If I had not stumbled across your blog (and the specific posting about TI) life would’ve really sucked! I live in South Africa and first read the above 6 weeks ago while searching for ways to at least swim 50m freestyle without drowning (ironically similar to your story).

    I ordered the latest TI freestyle DVD and the TI book, and am proud to say that today, 6 weeks after starting the program, I’ve just completed a mile in a 25 yard pool at gym. At the age of 33 I’ve just about given up on learning how to swim – your blog and Terry Laughlin’s AMAZING self-coaching program has saved my life. Thanks a lot – keep up the great work!!

  12. Thank you Tim Ferris. Just read the swim blog and watched part or all of the video links. And just swam significantly better than I ever have in my entire life. Left the pool area with a big smile on my face.

  13. I used to hate swimming as well. I could do a length or two of freestyle and ten I’d be out of breath. When I did the side stroke or breast stroke I could swim much longer but I was a lot slower.

    I was watching a program on the Discovery Channel on Navy SEALs and saw the “combat swim stroke” which is a modified side stroke. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lUHudMN1TU

    I found that I was much better on one side than another and that either way I kept running into the lane line (and turning in open water).

    I now do the combat swim stroke, but I alternate sides with every stroke. This has turned out to be perfect for me.

    After reading and seeing the TI method, I’ll try it, but the modified side stroke has made me a swimmer.

  14. This is very exciting to me! I am very athletic, not afraid of water and yearn to surf one day before I leave this planet. I have had friends try to teach me to swim and the main thing I can recall from all lessons is that I sink :(. My friends tell me it’s because I have so much muscle, blah,blah, blah…that is not a sufficient answer. At first glance at 3 videos you have shown here, I know my experience in the water will be different. When the basic mechanics of what the muscles should be doing, how the torso should be angled, I understand it so much better. I have studied fitness, lifted weights, taken massage therapy and do Bikram yoga regularly. I look forward to reporting back in a few months…with a new favorite past time…swimming and eventually surfing!

  15. Thank you, Tim. I bought the total immersion book and dvd last summer. I began swimming laps. I now ENJOY swimming. Previously, it had been awkward. Now, it’s enjoyable.

    I also recommend a salt water pool. I never enjoyed a chlorine pool. The pool I go to now uses salt and an electric current to convert the NaCl to chlorine. It’s very easy on my eyes.

  16. excellent videos ,clear audio and it was fun to watch them …

    It took me a long time (years) to learn swimming …i always discontinued after a few lessons…but last year i was determined and learnt swimming…i reached the pool around 5 in the morning…the sky was lovely n the pool was less crowded..it was exhilarating..this year i ‘m working on my technique…what worries me is the hygiene factor n also the effect of chlorine on my hair n skin

  17. Tom, I love you but prepare yourself. I learned to swim on my own, without any help, just my listening to the water and by using intuition.

    On top of all that, I am legally retarded.

  18. I just stumbled across this site. I have a hard time believing that anyone learned TI in 10 days and can do effectively.

    On the other hand I have progressed from being at best able to exhaust myself doing 25m to having very close to a pretty good TI stroke.

    Bottom line, want to learn to swim and have a style that people envey. Go TI

    I still cannot understand why the other lappers in the pool are kicking with boards, swim mostly with a pull bouy then get out the hand paddles. Meanwhile I am 10 strokes less, no kicking (2 beat) and go just as fast.

    Thank you Terry. There may be many imitators on the web these days but Terry was the one that persevered with the promotion of his TI beliefs and made it available to all.

    Awesome

  19. Andrew,

    I love that you are doing TI – congrats!

    It is absolutely possible. An athlete and lifehacker like Tim can do 40 lengths per workout in sets of 2 and 4 because:

    For 10 straight days, just focused solely on TI swimming all day, all night.

    When he wasn’t swimming, he was watching videos, taking notes, watching videos, thinking, writing, analyzing, dreaming about it.

    Living and breathing TI 24/7 for 10 straight days.

    Basically:

    Ship fast (Watch tape. Get in pool. Swim).

    Listen (to your body).

    Analyze.

    Iterate.

    Repeat until 40 lengths/workout.

    And I agree – kudos to Terry. A champion triathlete and leader in revolutionizing swimming.

  20. Tim, I am very confused. You mentioned that you were unable to do the drills from page 110-150 due to a weak kick, but you found the DVD very helpful.

    But the DVD is just the drills from page 110-150 in video format!

    The DVD is useless for me. I can not do any of the drills; not even the very simple drill #1. I am skinny and have a weak kick.

    What is going on? Did they update the DVD? Did you post the wrong DVD? Am I misunderstanding something?

    Help!

  21. Tim,

    6 weeks ago, I started doing laps and I had to take at least 5 minutes rest in between a full lap (25 meter pool) and got totally exhausted after 3 laps (3 x 25). Then I googled and found your blog but I did not fully understand the concept but it did motivated me after after seeing the clip you posted. Then I hit YouTube watched the videos from “tiswim”. After 3 weeks of practiced, I can do 26 full laps in about 1.5 hour in the pool – I used them circles in the lane divider to keep count. I’m focusing on form and breathing at this time and not the number of laps. Today, I went back and read your blog and they all make sense. Thank you and I’ll keep you posted once my form and rhythm are imprinted.

  22. Thank you very much – great information. Great you now like swimming. It’s a given for kiwis. Some birds fly and others swim.

  23. Tim,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I noticed the chapter on swimming in 4HB but skipped over it thinking “I can already swim”. It wasn’t until a month ago when my girlfriend and I signed up for a triathlon that I actually hopped in the pool and realized how bad I was. I am confident/experienced with running and cycling so I mistakenly thought swimming would be a breeze. My girlfriend’s exact words were “you swim like an elephant”.

    Three weeks away from the tri I began to panic and search for a cure. I am typically a person who overloads myself with information so I was relieved when your blog post was the first to pop up when I searched in googled “how to swim properly”.

    After four workouts of TI I cut my stroke length in half. I no longer swim like an elephant and have found a new passion for the art of freestyle swimming. Your work has impacted my life as well as my friends’ more than you know. Thanks for everything.

    Sincerely,

    -Ryan

  24. Thanks for the information.

    For me, swimming is extremely difficult. I took swimming lessons for 10 years as a child. The lessons were compulsory and provided by my school.

    I also took extra lessons out of school hours and spent a lot of time in the water during summer but in spite of this I still can’t swim. I can’t even float on my back! No matter what I do, I just sink. Dog paddle is no good either, I just sink head first which makes it impossible to breath. I gave up long ago. Now in my 50s I doubt I will ever learn.

    1. Men have always worn caps but now it is more common. Many competitive men and boys wear caps to help give them an edge in racing.

      I believe that all swimmers with long hair including the guys should wear caps in the pool. It keeps he pool a lot cleaner prevents swimmers from encountering strands of hair in the pool. Caps are fem guys, they have a purpose.

  25. Just want to say thank you for the tips. I’m 41 and haven’t had to swim without fins. I have to swim 300 yards in 10 mins do I can get into fish and game academy. I’ve been practicing but been getting worn out after 3 laps. After 1st day of trying with your advice, I did it in 9 mins. My arms weren’t tired, but I was out if breathe. Gonna keep practicing. Thanks

  26. You don’t necessarily need to sport the Speedo – though it IS the easiest streamlining in most cases. I still wear shorts, but they are relatively short and cling to my legs. I remember the first time I swapped out of board shorts – those things are a menace.

  27. I just joined a gym first of the year at 50 years young alll because I wanted to be a better swimmer

    I started this program and quiet honestly i am now doing 1 mile work outs with out hesitantion and or fatigue

    This system makes you feel like your cheating it can not be this easy

    1. I agree with this comment!

      I have dobbed myself in to do a 1900 meter swim in a half ironman event in November…..the furthest I have swum in open water is 400metres….

      first training I swam 600 metres after reading this in the Four Hour Body…I re read it, watched the YouTube clips and yesterday swam all 1900 meters….OUTRAGEOUS! It felt amazing – thank you thank you!

      Some tweaks using this method and yes – felt at some points like I was swimming downhill!

  28. Tim, I’ve been following you for years, I finally made time to follow your swimming advice. I went from being out of breath after 50m, to swimming a mile nonstop and only quitting because the pool was closing after a very short period of actual time in the pool. I’ve just registered for my first Ironman, something I hadn’t dreamed of before just because of the swim. Thanks for all of the inspiration.

  29. Hey! I’ve enjoyed reading this page on swimming. But I am struggling on breathing. I have Got a swim test in 2 days to be a apprenticeship lifegaurd and I have been swimming front crawl with my head down and my boyfriend has said I get quite far in a good time but i snuggle to complete a length cos my breathing us all wrong. Please help. It’s hard aswell when I’ve Got shorts and tshirt on and can’t wear goggles 🙁 but i had been practicing with goggles on and I’m really struggling. I have Got to swim 50 m in 60 seconds and then 100m continually and then tread water and rescue a manaquin from bottom of deap end (11ft)

    Help!

    Jess

  30. Hi Tim,

    I really appreciate the way that you help break down the aspects of learning something as basic as swimming. Looking forward to trying it. I bought the e-book of “Four-Hour Chef” and it has been very useful. One question that I had for you(or anyone else you might know): I’m in the middle of an internship at a startup software company and I’m trying to learn Java- a programming language. Do you have any tips on how to deconstruct a programming language? I’ve tried asking this question of experienced programmers but all I get is head shaking and “That can’t be done”. Thanks again for all of the great work you’ve put out to help free folks from the grind (looking for an escape hatch already)- Will

  31. I’m working with a TI coach for Triathalon training. I was having the typical problems with swimming (more training did not equal better performance)! Now, with TI, I find the philosophy (if you will) and technique to be elegantly simple. I’m also learning a bit about Chi running which along the same lines seems to think about what is a more “natural” way of running, keeping in mind our body in relationship to the surface and gravity etc. It seems that we need to pay attention to our physical nature, and what we’re asking our bodies to do and perhaps to the basic physics of it all! It’s really an eye opener!

  32. I actually subconciously always had known it, but after reading 4HB I was strucked by the importance of progres measuring. So how do you think I can measure my progress in swimming during first weeks of TI programme. I am learning it mainly from movie “total immersion freestyle made easy”. and now I am on Zipper Skate drill. Because of the focus on technique I don’t think it’s a good idea to track your time records for a given distance, strokes’ counting also can be misleading due to possible differences in footwork?

  33. Regarding goggles. I’ve been swimming for years and at first couldn’t find goggles that would stay on and not fog. I finally came across Swedish goggles. They don’t have foam or padding, it’s plastic that fits kind of directly on your eye (as opposed to eyebrow/nose/temple.) The pressure of water basically keeps them on your head so you don’t need the goggles to be strapped tightly. It’s a preference thing, if you’re not having any luck, worth a try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_goggles

  34. Congratulations Tim on your achievement. I have taught a lot of adults to swim. I have had many men who were absolutely frightened of climbing into the pool and taking lessons. Swimming is a wonderful form of exercise for men.

    Learning to swim also build confidence.

  35. Thank you for the great article. I taught myself to swim with TI a few years ago and really identified with your story. Now my wife (no competitive swimming experience) wants me to teach her and I’m going right back to the TI videos. By far the only way an adult should learn to swim, especially if they plan to teach themselves.

  36. Tim on July 1st I set a new lap high of 37 laps with about 25-27 strokes per lap and a time of 75 -80 seconds for 50 yds. I read your TI and was so excited to use it on the 4th that I did not sleep right. Well I swam 72 minutes and calculated I swam around 2800 yds, wow was not tired but had to stop in mid pool cause my heart rate was a little too high. I did not feel tired, and am really looking forward to my next session.

    The only thing that bothered me was I was still around 25-27 strokes without much of a leg kick

    Mario

  37. Forgot to tell you am 57 and started swimming in dec of 12 cause of meniscus surgery

    .I noticed my muscles in shoulders were sore cause of the different motion involved with TI

    1. Hey Mario

      Don’t sweat the small stuff! I started swimming last year for the 1st time at age 34 and did my first 70.3 Ironman in Jan this year in South Africa. Had the same problem as you with my shoulders (deltoids to be exact). Fixed it by following TI program to a t. You need to just relax and submit to the water. There’s no point in trying your damnest to propel forward. Just become one with the water and enjoy it!

  38. Great advice. I also have this book and am working on it. I should get the DVD though because the videos you have illustrate a bunch of the stuff I’ve been trying without it. Looking forward to getting more results the more I go. Like you, I’ve done a bunch of other sports and martial arts, but always avoided the water. Now I’m enjoying it more and more!

  39. So, I can “somewhat swim”-if you consider underwater in only 3 or 4 feet of water swimming. I am petrified. But want to learn. Unfortunately, I can’t quite comprehend anything you have mentioned above (but it seems like it makes sense). I need to start from scratch-and probably add hypnosis! I think swimming (at least when I tried above water) is completely dreadful! It took took much to keep myself afloat it seemed?? I couldn’t understand how it could possibly be enjoyable if you were so spent afterwards! I prefer running over swimming-because….well…the air can’t drown me….! My goal is to learn though, before my 2nd trip to Jamaica next year-so I can jump off the cliff at Rick’s Cafe in Negril! I think once I have a few months or so of basic instruction, I will be able to use your post to my advantage. Thanks, guys!

  40. Excelente!

    Creo que este artículo ilustra muy bien algunos puntos del Libro y del Video de TI. Las experiencias y consejos son muy lógicos y de muchísima utilidad.

    Gracias!

  41. After first posting here in February this year – I am tomorrow morning knocking off the swim leg of a half ironman event in Shepparton, Australia.

    Go swimming downhill! 1900 metres here I come!

    1. I am replying to myself here – but hey! Yesterday in shepparton 1900m in the lake (brown water only visibility when breathing of looking forward) 118 other team starters in the wave (I think that’s what I heard) and 41.5 minutes to the transition area!

      Thanks Tim for this post, thanks TI! Great stuff over the last 8 months.

  42. Hi….

    It’s helpful tips. I will try it. 🙂

    Actually I have a problem with swim because when I finished swim, I always feel tired and my muscle is stiff. When I was in Senior High School, I joined the swim club. It’s help me to improve my skill to swim. When I graduated from senior high school in 2012, I never go swimming. I am trying to swim recently, but my muscle is going stiff when I finished swimming. I asked my uncle who is a dive instructor that why I felt tired and my muscle is going stiff when I finished swim ? should I do workouts before swimming ?

    He said as same as the tips as above : “Forget about workouts and focus on “practice”. He also said that if you are want to improve your swimming skill just a simple way to do that. You must focus, relax and enjoy to swim. The tips above are right. Thanks a lot.

  43. I would call myself an avid distance swimmer and I think this article does a great job explaining technique. It is a pretty standard technique of swimming, but can be extremely difficult to explain and even more difficult to teach people who haven’t been swimming their whole lives. It is great!

  44. This is a very interesting article, although I remain doubtful. Beginning at the age of 50, I took swimming lessons for three years but never learned to swim. My teachers finally gave up on me, and then I gave up too.

    I would still like to learn to swim.

    1. I use to swim like a stone and then found this post and now I too can swim endlessly , actually I get bored before I get tired.

      The secret I found is to relax and follow the training techniques that Terry L discusses on his web site

      I start every swim with a couple of laps doing a Super Man glide just to un wind and relax I do get a few strange looks but it helps alot

  45. I am 65 and due to arthritis in my left foot have difficulty with the tread mill and elliptical. I hired a trainer to teach me to swim and he uses the TI technique. I love it. My only difficulty is the breathing. Once I figure that out the sky is the limit. I too can hardly wait each day to get in the pool.

  46. I was planning to practice solo next week and I’m looking for guidelines how to start swimming. We had swimming lessons during High School and College years but I can’t still grasp the essence of swimming and most of the time, leaving me frustrated. I am really planning to undergo swimming lessons again but I thought that this might be a waste of money. Good thing I stumbled to your blog, thanks to Google. It inspired me to check on Total Immersion and will use this for my self-study. I also wish I can learn how to tread ( I can float, but not treading…I’m sinking, boo). Well, one step a time. Thank you so much!

  47. Try using a diving mask and snorkel when you start. I did this so I could concentrate on swimming rather than breathing first. Btw. If ever you get water in the snorkel a fast sharp puff of air will clear it. Practise this. Also find a mask that fits. Put it on without the strap, breathe in through you nose and if it stays on, it fits. Only silicon masks will do this. While swimming only breathe through your mouth ( ie. The snorkel). This technique means you can seperate the mechanics of swimming from the mechanics of breathing. Once you have mastered the body roll you can ditch the snorkel and move to breathing. Good luck.

  48. Swimming is awesome! Really glad you overcame your fears and now you are a lover as well. I find the TI technique very intriguing. Will def have a look closer into it. Cheers, Julia 🙂

  49. Thank you Tim for the wealth of information and pointers. I am in my sixties and now finding the pleasure of swimming. I should have drowned a while ago and was always short of breath just one to another. I never learned swimming properly. Now zumba put some renewed vigor and I have also learned to breathe better. I am able to swim with less effort. However I still need to pause for a minute at each end.

    Currently I do 15 laps. I want to do 50 laps with ease. I will re-read this, re-watch and apply some of these techniques.

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

  50. Hey Tim

    Great work. What your doing is helping a lot of people. So, bravo. I just have one question. It seems this information on swimming is for people who can at least swim a bit. How do you even float in the first place? Its a nightmare to try out TI, if your sinking with a belly full of water

    1. Are you simply unable to float at all or have never tried, almost no one is able to float completely horizontally. Most people can only float with the tip of their heads above the water, but you can make yourself sink by letting all the air out.

  51. haha this might actually help me. I’ve always had a weird problem with swimming where I can swim better if i’m completely under water (I can do entire lengths of an olympic pool under water), but if i try to swim across the surface i just feel like I’m spinning my wheels and going nowhere. I’ve always felt like I just didn’t float enough to swim in that relaxed way everybody else seems to, but this technique has me thinking perhaps I don’t need to.

    Don’t spose there are any magic tips for treading water? Some people just seem to do nothing and float with their head fully out of the water. For me it feels like a hard workout where i’m having to tilt my head back to keep my mouth out the water.

  52. Hi Tim,

    I’ve started recently to listen to your podcasts and received an email with this article about swimming. If i tell you that i got the DVD and watched several times for techniques, went to swimming and applied what Terry is saying, and WOW!!! i could not believe the results!!!! I’ve been swimming for like 20 years lets say, and in the recent years i’ve always felt that i’m missing something, i was not gliding in the water like professional swimmers do…i felt i always put way to much effort for the result i was getting. That turning of your body for full extension makes total sense now, and i did reduced it after one session from 20+ strokes to 11-12!!! Unbelievable!!! It makes sense when you think about it, because it acts like a screw in when you turn it in a whole…

    I Love it!!!

    Thanks again for everything, keep up the great job you are doing!

    You are truly an inspiration!!!

  53. This was an awesome post. Following TI and with just a bit of extra researching online, I went from swimming less than 4 laps in my pool to easily swimming 70 in about a month and a half. I’m thrilled to do my first triathlon this summer and since I’ve learned the right way I actually LOVE swimming now. It’s relaxing, NOT difficult and I’m so happy I tried this.

  54. As an almost national swimmer, i recently managed 130 lengths of crawl non-stop, awesome tips though and a beautiful stroke

  55. This is absolutely the best sporting advice I’ve ever come across. The feeling of gliding through the water is insane! Thanks Tim, keep up your great work!

  56. Hi Judy here from Melbourne,

    Great tips for free style. Whilst being a swimmer all my life I could never “get” the freestyle. Your tips have enhanced me and now I am flying – whoo whoo.

    I used to try to snatch tips from the pool’s girl team but didn’t get any better.

    Thanks so much, I love my swimming (even though it’s a buggar on the long hair!!!)

    Jude

  57. Inspiring. But I can only doggie paddle about 20 feet I can’t actually swim with my face in the water. Any idea how to get past that?

  58. This is such a great article and a good read indeed. I know how to swim yet I never knew that there are essential steps that will enable us to swim efficiently and safely. I will definitely try these crucial steps at home so that I’ll be able to become a great swimmer. I will definitely encourage my friends as well to read this amazing article. 🙂

  59. Thank your post. I have been wanting to do triathlons for a long time but I have avoided swimming out of fear. I have been having problems with the breathing portion and I panic when I feel I can’t catch enough air. I know I have a long way to go but reading and seeing these clips you posted helped understand better what I need to do to master just learning to swim properly. I will definitely be trying these skills today.

  60. Keeping your head looking straight down at the bottom is ridiculous. Otherwise I don’t understand how anyone could consider TI groundbreaking. It’s just a way to sell you swimming lessons, but you would be better off with an attentive coach.

    1. I do a lot of the teacher training of TI coaches and one of the things we require of our teachers is that they teach from in the pool, hands-on, right next to the swimmer so that they can make immediate, gentle corrections and give immediate feedback. Doesn’t get more attentive than that! As far as looking straight down being ‘ridiculous’, it would indeed be better for visibility to look forward, the problem with that is that it breaks the head-spine alignment and causes the lower body to sag and sink so its really not possible to optimize body position without looking down. Having said that, people often misinterpret this and end up pushing their head too low in the water, so for the sake of clarity I’ll say that although the face should be looking down, the alignment of the back of the head should stay level, not pushed under the surface. So basically its a neutral head position (in line with the spine) not a low head position. Same as you would hold your head whilst walking and looking slightly down at the ground.

  61. Thanks for sharing this with such a wide audience. There are so many unnecessary water-related deaths each year. Posts like this give people the confidence to get out there and learn to love the water!

  62. Read this blog post, went on Amazon and purchased the DVD.

    Went from 1 x 25 meters to 22 x 25 meters (without stopping) in about 5 swim sessions!

    Brilliant! Thanks Tim!

    Sam

    P.S. My aim is 60 lengths without stopping (a swimmers mile)

  63. Tim,

    The Vanquisher goggles come with multiple nose pieces. It sound like you need a smaller one. Switching should eliminate the need to pinch your nose piece every few laps.

    -Father of Four Competetive Swimmers

    (Goggles are the #1 time waster/procrastination aid for swimmers of all ages and abilities.)

  64. Hi there,

    This is so inspiring. I’m forwarding to a few friends. Congratulations on finding a new love for swimming! I felt the same way when I was learning to scuba dive (before I even learned to swim more than a doggy paddle). Eventually, I found a way to be brave, but your story is so much more inspiring.

    I also love the advice you give on gear and practicing in the right pool. I work for a small family owned and operated swim gear company and would love a gear review from you, if you’re interested. Gear would be free, but we would want your honest opinion!

    Please let me know if you’re interested. Congrats on facing a fear and conquering it!

    – Michelle

  65. I am 75 years old and I had lung cancer 10 years ago and had a full resection of my right lung leaving me with two good lobes on my left side. I am in relatively good shape and told by Dr that my lungs have expanded to where I have about 60 to 70% capacity of a normal person. I have a spin bike and I spend 30 minutes 3 times a week and get my heart rate up to 90-95 percent. My problem is that for the last 3 weeks I’ve been trying to swim and while I’ve gotten better at it I still get out of breath even after one lap and I have to take a break between each lap. Has anyone with this lower lung capacity been able to use this system.

  66. Thank you, Tim Ferriss for this article. I have no idea who you are, but I came upon this article while googling trying to find a way to learn to swim at 48, since I signed up for a triathlon that was coming in a month. A month ago, I couldn’t even swim a lap without being completely out of breath and feeling like I’m going to drown. Two nights ago, I swam a quarter of a mile nonstop. All because I followed all your tips. You taught me how to swim. Thank you. Today, I am challenging myself to the very first triathlon and I am excited. I will bring your tips with me…long lead arm, swim downhill, stroke length, not stroke rates. 😊

  67. Amazing advice got the book ordered can’t wait watched all the vids helping me a lot thanks I’ve done now 11 strokes 25 metres amazing feeling when accomplish what you dream of doing massive influence from 22 to 11 🏊🏼👌🤗

  68. I just taught myself to swim in an hour, using your method.

    I’m staying at a country-house hotel for a week’s holiday, and my wife and six year old daughter are using the indoor pool everyday. I get in the water too, but can’t swim. I thought I’ve got to learn, as I’m missing out. I managed to float on my back by lying completely horizontal and kicking my legs gently. I thought that swimming on my front can’t be much different.

    I searched the internet for “how to teach yourself to swim” and this website came up. I read your article last night and watched some of the videos.

    This afternoon, I put on some goggles, got into the pool and pushed out completely horizontal face down. I followed the advice here, and was amazed how easy it was. Reach long with my arms and stay calm, don’t kick too much with my legs, focus on being streamlined, and turn my body so that I swim on my side as I reach forward.

    I’ve got to improve my breathing technique, as I’m nervous about trying to draw in air when my mouth is so close to the water, but this will come with more experience. I must remember to exhale when my head is down, and then inhale every few strokes as I roll my head. It’s only been an hour, after all; so I can’t expect to be completely perfect first time out !!

  69. THANK YOU Tim! I’ve ordered the book and DVD and will implement your notes today or tomorrow when I get to Gold’s gym pool again. I like swimming but it has always been a struggle – I look forward to making it a JOY.

    Rock on – thanks for all you do!

    Bea Hooper

  70. Green swimming pool everybody like.It is also my dream.I agree with your tips about soft water swimming pool.I have all your post list,Thanks for this post.

    [Moderator: Link removed]

  71. I was just listening to your podcast today and then popped over to your blog and saw your post about Total Immersion. I also took it and it was AMAZING for my swimming. We are fortunate to have a master coach Shane Eversfield live in our town and teach sessions all the time. [Moderator: link removed]

  72. Thanks for helping me to learn how to swim. At 25 years old I never swam laps, only lounged in pools. Realizing that I couldn’t actually swim, i began researching how to do so, and I found this. After about 8-12 hours in the pool i was able to swim for about 20-30 minutes straight.

  73. I have been learning to swim for last 6 months.still at the pool side practicing kicking motion and where tried putting the stuff taught by the swim teacher I topple n reach to pool side.when I am trying to swim I foret the steps n start doing my own stuff quickly n start to drown.i feel swimming is not for me.

  74. Tim when you said that you would be out of breath and your heart would be racing, I totally felt your pain. So today after reading your blog and watching your linked videos, I gave your tips a try. Oh my God! What a difference. All I did today was keep my face looking straight down, kicked less and brought my arms in more at a 45 degree angle rather than big swings and extend in front of my head and I suddenly was not as exhausted after every lap. I used to have to use the elementary back stroke after every free style lap to catch my breath, but I was able to knock out seventeen laps, with two back stroke laps today. I still paused a moment between each lap, but not gasping like I used to. Again this was only my first day, so my new techniques all had bad form and I had to keep reminding myself what to do – but wow with a little more practice, I can only imagine the progress I will make. Thank you so much for the tips!

  75. I love all the tips maybe tomorrow I won’t have to fight for air at the wall… you said try to get to 1 km and I swim 2 km a day for 4 days and I have very good coaches that helped me achieve my goals in swimming… I am definately trying out those techniques thx… do you have anything for butterfly, back and breast if so plz tell me I am lacking talent on them

  76. Total Immersion works! I read Tim’s article in January of 2016 when I could not even swim a lap. Ever since, I’ve been diligently practicing Total Immersion techniques twice or three times a week. Yesterday, after a little over a year, I swam 500 meters in 9 minutes (took me almost 15 min a year ago) and finished 40th among 220 coed swimmers in a Sprint triathlon race. I’m signed up for a half iron man this summer and am confident I will do it. Fyi, I’m almost 50. So awesome!

  77. I have swum my whole life and live on an island in a warm climate. I swam competitively as a kid but I don’t remember ever having a technical swim lesson. Lately I have been super inspired by my ability to uplevel and I have been swimming three times a week for an hour in the open water, it has been hard going and I had been alternating between 100 freestyle strokes and 20 breaststroke to recover. Last night I watched some of the video from Tim’s blog and decided to dive in this morning and give the TI technique a go, maybe it might improve my swimming or give me something to work on. The first thing I tried was to change the entry point of my hands and to push them down and forward deeper and with more reach, I was moving much quicker than usual covering the first few 100 yards relatively quickly. Next I worked on my body roll and relying less on a kick. I noticed that there was a significant discrepancy between my right and left arm entry point and reach. I corrected this by practicing the left arm entry and push and instead of only letting my body turn to the right for breath I let myself see the ocean on either side clearly from my body roll. I added a flick kick in the middle of the body roll, which seemed natural and easy and finally began to use the side of my head, top of my ear deeper into the water at the top of the roll on either side which caused the speed and efficacy to increase without any tiredness. Amazing! To top it all off I swam at least 1 km easily without pause, total freestyle! Came out of the water toying with the idea of joining an open water race this November in Barbados. http://www.swimbarbadosvacations.com/swimmer-details.html. Crazy thinking, but I just might do it….

  78. Total Immersion can be a good system for people to improve their swimming abilities with. I find the title of the post here to be slightly misleading because Tim can make it to the other side and back.

    I work at a local pool where my students sometimes even struggle with anxiety that can be so severe that they can’t even put their heads underwater. It’s unfortunate, because they are the ones that have the hardest time finding useful advice to help themselves.

    If you are struggling with any kind of anxiety in the water, the Total Immersion Method will cause you to fall flat because you are missing the ability to remain calm and relaxed while you are swimming.

    Before you try TI, build up some comfortability in the pool. Make sure you can dunk your head underwater comfortably for at least 10 seconds. Make sure you feel relaxed with your eyes closed underwater. Try different things to help build up some confidence in the water before you get all fancy with the drills.

    Good luck you guys

    [Moderator: link removed.]

    1. Hi there, We definitely address anxiety and comfort issues prior to getting into any propulsion. One of the things my dad really focused on in his last book was the issues of swimmer comfort and how that needs to be addressed before anything else so that the swimmer is not operating in survival mode. This is why balance and relaxation are the keystones above all else. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify! – Fiona Laughlin (Terry’s daughter and TI coach)

  79. As someone who has taught swimming for half a decade this is good, and bad.

    Let me explain it is all about the aquatics Dynamics of your movement. The way the method explained it, it really got about halfway there. For most people this may be alright, but I makes me cringe anytime I see it. The biggest thing is the wrist, If it is loose you lose. You waste energy when you let it drag. It should stay locked, out of everything that is the only thing I will drone about.

    Just keep in mind swimming is exercise, low impact? Not really. Lesser impact? Sure.

    Easy? Even for runners, sprinters, or bikers? Hell no.

    It’s completely different, always keep that in mind.

    1. Hi Dustin, We don’t teach people to drag their wrists when swimming whole stroke. What we teach is for the hand to be relaxed during the recovery, then to use the hand to pierce the water on the entry and extension and to then shape the entire length of the arm from fingertips to shoulder in the most effective position to create a holistically connected leveraging action. We never teach having a disconnected hand as you seem to have perceived it. Rather, to not have a hand that is excessively tensed in such a way that it does nothing to contribute to propulsion. Having taught adult swimmers TI for 30 years I can say unequivocally that the average adult beginner swimmers holds an excess of tension in the body and in particular the hand and fingertips that is not only unnecessary but counterproductive to forward movement. That is not to say that we teach total relaxation to the point of shapelessness. There is a vast gap between excessive tension and excessive relaxation and the general adult swimmers errs on the side of excessive tension which is why we focus on relaxation. If they erred on the side of excessive relaxation to the point where they held no proper alignment or leverage, we would focus more on tension, but thats patently not the case. Thanks! – Fiona Laughlin (Terry’s daughter and 30 year TI coach)

  80. Excellent tips, Tim, indeed…. I’d like to share with you that I learned to swim when I was 46 years old, after a very long period of time living with fear to water…. But, once I drank several gallons of water during my first classes learning the basics, I couldn’t stop myself of trying more and more distance… Now, each time I find a good water place (beach, rivers, lakes, interesting pools, even underground flows, I spend minutes, hours, swimming and enjoying those delicious flavors….

    These tips are really excellent, so be sure I’ll apply them immediately, to improve my own technique,…!

    =)

  81. This first video is amazing. I’m going to order the book right now. Discovering your blog has been inspirational as my goal has been to find amazing routines from others and replicate it. Thanks for what you do!

  82. I have been an avid swimmer since the early nineties. I bought Terry Laughlin’s book and followed the principles within, it is a landmark book!

    I would like to draw your attention to one problem that may crop up while attempting to follow Terry’s advice.

    There is a tendency to over-reach on the free-style catch and that can lead to shoulder problems. For me part of the over-reaching included keeping my hand too close to the surface of the water when I started my catch.

    I corrected it this way. I stood with my back touching a wall and raised my arms above my head. The point at which my arms wouldn’t go any farther with out increased effort is the same angle i keep my catch at when i am swimming.

    My shoulder problems stopped soon after I started the deeper catch.

    Clearly my shoulders need to be more flexible but sometimes the ideal stroke for you is not the ideal stroke that Terry (or anyone else) says.

    1. Hi Peter, the issue that you speak of “overreaching” is not one that we teach at TI because we very much emphasize a steeper angle of extension PRIOR to the ‘catch’ but thank you for the opportunity to clarify. We teach swimmers to enter the hand on the tracks at a steep enough angle that when they rotate and extend to full extension of the lead arm, that hand should already be deep enough to go into the ‘catch’ at an angle that is both healthy for the shoulder as well as in an effective position for leverage. We never teach people to extend the hand straight in front of the shoulder which does indeed lead to a ‘catch’ that would be at a disadvantageous angle for both shoulder health and for proper leverage. Thanks for your comment! – Fiona Laughlin (Terry’s daughter and TI Coach)

  83. We might never swim fast and gracefully like those guys and girls in the Olympics, but everybody can and must learn to float and move in the water. Moving or even just being in water is one of the most natural, low impact exercises and should be considered as fundamental in our physical development. Also think about this – being in water might be our last resort and option to exercise when we get older or suffer from injuries. I think that learning to swim is one of the best investments in our health. Swimming is for the body what meditation is for the mind. Did you know that you can actually meditate while swimming? Thank You for the continues inspiration and great content!

  84. Looking forward to trying it out. Loved Diana Nyad’s book find a way. Really makes me glad there aren’t Jellyfish in the pool. Also enjoyed Marcia Cleveland’s book Dover Solo. Let me know if you ever need a good person to interview on learning golf. Ollen Stephens, PGA Master Professional (Teaching & Coaching) can help.

  85. I know this is old but maybe still get a reply. Recently took a adult class for swimming. I just turned 40 in good shape and ultimately wanted to conquer a goal of swimming I never learned. I have improved a lot in the 10 week course but when swimming I just get burned out very quickly. Which being in good shape has frustrated me. I ask my instructor why this is? I can run 5k /10knraces no problem at all do free weights take fitness classes no issues keeping up. I get in the pool and old ladies lap me. Of course being new this was my instructors reason. Anyways came across TI

    Swimming and it made perfect sense to me. But what I do not understand if you just learning wouldn’t it be best to learn a correct energy saving form vs a energy sucking form? Why has this style not gone more main stream virtually no instructors no anything about it? My goal is to one day compete in a iron man but the rate I’m going now just seems near impossible with my swimming just pathetic. Did you learn TI completely by yourself I see many drills require a second person. I wish I could find someone locally to help me out but does not look like any TI instructors are in my area.

    1. Hello Chris,

      Thank you taking the time to post. As a TI Coach and Terry Laughlin’s daughter, I appreciate what Tim has done so much. His support of TI allows us to reach an even wider audience and help more people. The reason TI is not as well known as it should be is a complicated answer. In short, Terry revolutionized swim instruction from a teaching/coaching perspective, but the focus has always been on content, rather than a business structure. Terry was first and foremost a teacher who cared about students, rather than a marketing whiz or a business guru. Pure of focus, he truly never gave much thought to the money. His purity of motive is part of why he was so beloved in life (he passed in Oct 2017), as no one could ever say he was solely in it for fame or riches. He loved and lived his work, and his life was one of service. That said, we are entering a new phase of TI where we are attempting to broaden our reach and therefore bring the gift of smooth, fluid swimming to greater numbers of people. It has been so incredible to have savvy and influential supporters like Tim to allow that to be possible, and we are trying to glean wisdom from those in the business community who have the skills to help us reach more people. We know a lot about swimming, but we are striving to understand more about business, so that we can hopefully one day have TI coaches in every town. This was always Terry’s dream, and we will do our best to make that dream a reality so that people understand how wonderful swimming can really feel. Thank you Tim, and thanks to all who took the time to comment. If you can come to New Paltz, NY (90 min bus ride from NYC) you could book a class with myself or another member of our staff. We would be honored to have you come.

      1. Oh, and to be clear, your problems are 1000% technique issues, so any nonsense you hear about needing some special swim conditioning is exactly that-nonsense. I have no doubt that feedback is well intentioned, but it could not be more wrong. As you say yourself, you watch less fit persons swim distances that currently seem impossible, so I suspect you already know this. We can help you, I promise. Start with some self teaching materials (there is a free YouTube channel called TI Swim), and see how you fare. Some, like many posters here, find they get satisfactory results on their own. But stay optimistic-you are nowhere near your potential yet, and I assure you that your potential is vast!